Posts tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Kipped out

And so the quinquennial farce that are the European Parliamentary Elections draw towards an end as those who can be bothered to cast a ballot get the opportunity to do so at various times over the next 4 days with the results starting to be announced after the polls finally close on Sunday evening.

Farce, you cry? Well yes. What else do you call voting for a parliament with few powers? The real power lies with the European Commission and the members of that august body (no sniggering at the back) are appointed by national governments without any voter consultation.

Given that, is it any surprise that the European electorate aren’t expected to bother? Barely 43% bothered in 2009 – ranging from as high as 91% in Belgium and Luxembourg to just shy of 20% in Slovakia (the UK managed just over 1 in 3) – and I doubt it would surprise anyone if it is lower this time around.

As any UK resident will be aware, the main media story of the campaign in this country has been UKIP and the likelihood of them topping the poll – thus leading to them taking more seats on the European gravy train than either Labour or the Conservatives.

To call the campaign acrimonious would be an understatement. With it being impossible (since they have no effective power) to formulate an election strategy based on what the pan-European electoral grouping each national party is affiliated to might achieve should it become the biggest (pretty much nothing), the UK parties have fallen back on national issues. Therefore the election will (in the UK at least) be seen more as a protest against the ‘Establishment’ rather than as a serious attempt to produce a ‘Government’ (in the loosest sense of the word).

I suspect only those who have been concentrating will be able to recall anything memorable that iDave, Millipede Jr or Nick have said during this campaign but, thanks to the media attention focused on the party, can probably mention several things said by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and various candidates (whether for the European or the local elections) – especially the ones that cast the party in a bad light.

The charge of racism has been levelled at them since they made immigration (or the right to live and work anywhere within the EU) the focus of their EU election strategy and various comments have shown that there are certainly some candidates who have distasteful views regarding skin colour or, more generally, anyone perceived to be ‘foreign’.

I very much doubt that those sentiments are confined to just UKIP supporters or candidates but the repeated accusations and exposures of candidates opinions has, it would seem, demonstrably failed to make any negative impact on UKIP’s polling figures. We shall find out the truth of the matter on Sunday. What has been rather more amusing is watching the development of a bunker mentality amongst the more vocal of their supporters on social media and a run on tinfoil as their belief that this is all a conspiracy grows.

In the end though it matters not if UKIP top the European Parliament ballot in Great Britain. Until they manage to get some MPs they are going to remain an even more useless protest vote than the Lib Dems.

If you wish to vote UKIP (or, indeed, anyone else) then go ahead. Just don’t think it will change anything.

“I do not think it means what you think it means…”

It would seem that this year’s (much abbreviated) silly season will run into the party conferences if reports of some of the motions to be debated at the Illiberal Democrats confrence are anything to go by.

A motion, to be debated on the Sunday 23 September, says the party should call for “fiscal measures such as the taxation of heavily sugared drinks”.

The plan – which has been proposed by Baroness Parminter, the party’s co-chairman of its Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee – is part of a series of “policies and measures aimed at promoting healthier and more sustainable diets”.

Party officials said taxing fizzy drinks was only one example, and the levy could also include heavily sweetened sweets and other goods.

One idea would see a charge levied on products which breached a set sugar content threshold.

This is, I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to hear, for the children. Apparently we have half a million children at risk of suffering from liver disease because they are too fat but as this figure comes from Professor Martin Lombard, England’s National Clinical Director for Liver Disease it is possible that we can dismiss it as rent-seeking.

Even if it isn’t, the Torgraph article helpfully tells us that “taxing sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year” (my emphasis).

Given that in 2010 the Office for National Statistics tells us that 493,242 people across England and Wales, 53,967 in Scotland and 14,500 in NI, that is less than 0.5% of the total.

For comparision, 3,377 people committed suicide in 2010 in England and Wales alone.

Fizzy drinks and sugary items are therefore hardly a national emergency, are they?

Yet another example, it would seem, of politicans searching for answers to a non-existent problems rather than just letting people get on with their lives. Not exactly the actions of a so-called Liberal.

The only potential justification that I can possibly see for an extra (Pingu) tax is if the amount currently raised by VAT doesn’t cover the externalities. Does anyone know how much VAT on these ‘harmful’ products raises against how much treatment (denistry, medical care etc) caused by their consumption costs?

She [Lady Parminter] said that the party was only asking for a consulation on the plans and was not at the moment in favour of a sugar tax.

Looks like the start of another branch of that non-existent slippery slope to me…

Local Elections 2012

In my ward there are 6 candidates standing: Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and 2 Independents.

Only three of these (Green, Lab, Ind) live in the ward. The sitting councillor (Ind) isn’t one of them.

Leaflets were received from only two candidates (Lab, LD). The LD one didn’t even give their candidate’s name.

The Labour candidate is a perennial one.

So, if I follow my usual rules of not voting for anyone who

  1. doesn’t live in the ward, and/or
  2. doesn’t bother to try and solicit my vote

then I’m left either voting Labour or spoiling my ballot paper.

Anyone got any good insults?

Marriage revisited

The subject of marriage is once again in the spotlight after Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities (and not, as the Telegraph described her, ‘Equalities Minister’), used her speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference to announce:

We are a world leader for gay rights, but as this conference made clear last year with your call for equal marriage, there is still more that we must do.

That is why I am delighted to announce today that in March, this Government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples.

And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this Parliament.

Civil partnerships were a welcome first step – but as our constitution states, this party rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.

And I believe that to deny one group of people the same opportunities offered to another is not only discrimination, but is not fair.

Predictably this idea has gone down like the preverbal lead balloon with the Christian religious traditionalists/fundamentalists* with commentators such as the likes of His Grace frothing at the mouth and saying that religious marriage is nothing to do with politicians. Strangely I agree with him, but not, I think, for the same reasons as I would go further and say that the State has no place in deciding who can – or indeed cannot – marry.

However, as with so much these days, we are starting from a point in the UK where what should be a simple contract between the involved parties has instead been heavily influenced by both religion and State for many hundreds of years.

Wikipedia tells us that:

A requirement for banns of marriage was introduced to England and Wales by the Church in 1215. This required a public announcement of a forthcoming marriage, in the couple’s parish church, for three Sundays prior to the wedding and gave an opportunity for any objections to the marriage to be voiced (for example, that one of the parties was already married), but a failure to call banns did not affect the validity of the marriage.

Marriage licenses were introduced in the 14th century, to allow the usual notice period under banns to be waived, on payment of a fee and accompanied by a sworn declaration, that there was no canonical impediment to the marriage. Licenses were usually granted by an archbishop, bishop or archdeacon. There could be a number of reasons for a couple to obtain a license: they might wish to marry quickly (and avoid the three weeks’ delay by the calling of banns); they might wish to marry in a parish away from their home parish; or, because a license required payment, they might choose to obtain one as a status symbol.

There were two kinds of marriage licenses that could be issued: the usual was known as a common license and named one or two parishes where the wedding could take place, within the jurisdiction of the person who issued the license. The other was the special license, which could only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his officials and allowed the marriage to take place in any church.

To obtain a marriage license, the couple or more usually the bridegroom, had to swear that there was no just cause or impediment why they should not marry. This was the marriage allegation. A bond was also lodged with the church authorities for a sum of money to be paid if it turned out that the marriage was contrary to Canon Law. The bishop kept the allegation and bond and issued the license to the groom, who then gave it to the vicar of the church, where they were to get married. There was no obligation, for the vicar to keep the license and many were simply destroyed. Hence, few historical examples of marriage licenses, in England and Wales, survive. However, the allegations and bonds were usually retained and are an important source for English genealogy.

Given the period of history in question, I suppose it is not a surprise that the Catholic Church attempted such a complete and total power grab. Prior to then marriage had been considered a private affair but once the Church had had its way it became a religious arrangement – the echos of which are still present today.

The Church though did not thoroughly subjugate the institution of marriage within England and Wales until 1753 when the State, perhaps pressured by the (by this time) Church of England (CoE), passed what is known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act. This conjoining of the country’s two most powerful bureaucracies of the age formalised the previous arrangements for everyone except Jews and Quakers (although it stopped short of ensuring the legality of their ceremonies).

(As an interesting footnote, because the Act was not binding in Scotland, the rise of Gretna Green as a place of elopement can be traced to this Act. That and the building of a toll road which passed nearby.)

For the CoE though this enshrining of its wishes into Law can also be considered the high water mark in terms of their control over the institution of marriage.

Less than 100 years later, the Marriage Act of 1836 restored the ability of people to get married outside of the influence of the CoE, legalising civil marriages and allowing ministers from other Christian denominations to conduct legal marriages. The then Bishop of Exeter was so outraged by this idea that he denounced the bill in quite strong terms:

…a disgrace to British legislation. (It) is pretended to be called for to prevent clandestine marriages, but I think it will greatly facilitate such proceedings. Not solemnised by the church of England, may be celebrated without entering into a consecrated building, may be contracted by anybody, and will be equally valid, whether it takes place in the house of God, or in the house of a registering clerk, one of the lowest functionaries of the state. The parties may take one another for better and for worse, without calling God to witness their plighted troth. No blessing sought; no solemn vows of mutual fidelity; no religious solemnity whatever…

The follow up act of 1949, reconfirmed much of what already existed but banned under 16s from getting married. Thus the state of play today is that:

…a couple has a choice between being married in the Anglican Church, after the calling of banns or obtaining a license or else, they can give “Notice of Marriage” to a civil registrar. In this latter case, the notice is publicly posted for 15 days, after which a civil marriage can take place. Marriages may take place in churches other than Anglican churches, but these are governed by civil marriage law and notice must be given to the civil registrar in the same way. The marriage may then take place without a registrar being present, if the church itself is registered for marriages and the minister or priest is an Authorised Person for marriages.

(As an aside, did you know that it is illegal in the UK to marry between 1800 hrs and 0800 hrs? The Freedom Bill (remember that?) will, if it ever passes, remove this restriction.)

And there you have it, an institution which, for all practical purposes, dates back to when the first caveman hit the first cavewoman over the head with a club and carried her back to his cave is now all neatly controlled by the State with a bit of a sweetener to keep the official Christian sect of the country happy.

It is thus possible to see why the CoE, having once joined forces with the State when it was the bigger beast, now complains bitterly when its secular successor announces changes to the civil side of the equation as they realise that their bone will be taken away next. If the CoE really wants to retain what little power it has left in the matter then it should be actively campaigning for disestablishment. This would allow it to revert back to its original status as an outsider. However their attachment to the State is so great that I can’t honestly see it happening – which means that they are condemned to suffer along with the rest of us. Quite ironic really.

Meanwhile the fact that the controlling monolith is considering (assuming this consultation is anything other than a formality) opening up the definition of marriage is to be applauded. That it will still retain control afterwards is not.

What it should do is get out of the game altogether and leave it up to the individual to marry in whatever combination of numbers and/or genders that takes their fancy under whichever rules they do so choose. Together with disestablishment this would leave the CoE, as a private organisation, free to impose its own restrictions on those who wish to use its facilities and membership. Then, if members of the CoE object to a particular policy (such as banning gays or lesbians from having a religious wedding service) they are free do what has happened every other time there has been a fundamental policy disagreement within the Christian Church: Schism.

* delete as you consider appropriate

Local Election 2011 Round-Up: Liberal Democrats

Also making a late dash for my vote are the Liberal Democrats and given the crudity of the leaflet (an A4 bit of paper that has obviously been run off on a standard laser printer) shoved through my letterbox it seems they either forgot or had little to no money to spend. Still, let’s not pre-judge them completely. It may (no laughing at the back) contain something that convinces me to vote for the candidate.

Like the two previous candidates mentioned he also lives in the ward, next door the the Labour candidate as it turns out. That must make for interesting conversations across the fence, no doubt. He also claims to know first hand the problems those of us in the ward face. Strangely I don’t ever recall speaking to him, let alone meeting him so I can only assume that he is a mind reader if he knows what problems I do (or don’t) have.

The only local issues he mentions though are the library (he ups the ante by suggesting it is in need of saving) and the rubbish so it seems that perhaps he and his neighbour do get along quite well.

The next half page covers the result of last year’s local elections when the Lib Dem candidate in this ward narrowly beat the Conservative one and in the process ousted the sitting Independent. Unsurprisingly last year’s victor is enthusiastically endorsing his party compatriot.

This is followed by the need to explain the break down of parties and seats within the ward and I am told that the Lib Dems are neck and neck with the Conservatives in the west of the borough. No mention of the eastern half but I suppose that their utter lack of a councillor out that way is not something they’d wish to trumpet. I am also told that only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories in this ward. No mention that the sitting councillor is an Independent, this is supposedly just a straight slugfest between two parties in collation nationally.

Not that the leaflet mentions the national situation anywhere. There isn’t a sniff of anything from Liberal Democrat high command anywhere on it. Too embarrassed perhaps? Hoping against hope that if they don’t mention it then perhaps the locals won’t give them too much of a kicking? Who knows.

It concludes by making an attack on the sitting administration, accusing them of incompetence, bad decision making and money wasting. All standard fair to be honest, even if former council leader Anna Waite does seem to have spent a lot of time in the local press for all the wrong reasons. However what it doesn’t say, amongst the claims that a Liberal Democrat administration would make things better in the borough, is that the maths is, I believe, against them. The best they can do is become the biggest party and to do that they will need to hang on to their existing seats and win almost everywhere else. That doesn’t seem likely.